Baptistry Restoration Continues
The baptistry is one of only two sections of the original Mission Basilica still standing from the original construction in the late 18th century. The restoration project, which began in 2011, was made possible by generous gifts made in memory of long-time Mission parishioner, Hank Kelley, whose wife, Marion, wanted to leave a legacy that would benefit the Mission for years to come.
“It’s wonderful to see the baptistry reflect its original Spanish Colonial roots,” said Mary C. Whelan, Mission Curator. “Although we do not have records as to how the baptistry was originally decorated, the renovation is in keeping with the style found in California’s Missions.”
The restoration project began with an artist painting the baptistry and incorporating the symbols of baptism — such as blue for water and a shell. Next came the decision as to what to do with the font itself. The original baptismal font associated with the Mission is a portable copper vessel with a floral, petal motif on the lid that is now in the museum. When the Mission church was restored in the 1930’s, the baptistry did not have a font. It was not until the 1970’s that the current baptismal font was added. The font is a replica of the stone basin from the Church of St. Peter (Igelsia de San Pedro) in Petra, Mallorca, Spain. The Petra font was where Father Junipero Serra was baptized in 1713. The original font from Serra’s baptismal place has a copper top that would cover the stone basin.
“Parishioners would come back with photos of the original stone basin with its gorgeous copper cover and we always hoped to have the chance to one day complete ours in the same way,” said Father Richard Duncanson, pastor of the Mission.
Images of the Petra copper cover show a hand-hammered dome-shaped lid. The design chosen for the replica combined elements from the Petra lid with the design of the portable font in the Mission’s museum.
The new cover was sketched by Whelan and brought to life by Pat Downing, who is known both for his work as an 1850’s-style blacksmith in San Diego’s Old Town State Historic Park and for his contemporary sculptures.
Downing used techniques similar to those that would have been used by coppersmiths at the time the Mission was built, even making his own tools to get the desired texture.
Starting with a 36-inch square sheet of copper, he used the ancient method of chasing and repousse to raise the dome and “chase” the flower pattern into the metal. The piece was done without a finish so that it will continue to patina naturally, changing color over time.
The baptismal font is now on permanent display in the baptistry, inside the Mission church.
About Pat Downing
Pat Downing is an award-winning metal artist who works out of his studio in San Diego where he creates one-of-a-kind hand-forged sculptures. Pat fuses traditional blacksmithing with contemporary techniques and is especially known for his vibrant patinas and his own unique take on Foldforming, the origami-like process of folding heated metal into dramatic shapes. Though his work is far from traditional, Pat is very aware of the storied roots of blacksmithing. When he’s not working in his studio, you can find Pat dressed in 1850’s period attire, demonstrating traditional blacksmithing techniques to tourists and school groups at the Old Town State Park in San Diego. For more information: www.patdowning.com.